Celtic Symbolism – The Moon - October 2019

By Desiree Marie

 “May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night and the road downhill all the way to your door.” -Irish blessing

How magical is it to have a moon? The moon is thought to have existed not long after the earth formed, with the debris left over. The surface of the moon is actually fairly dark but when it reflects the sun’s light peaking around from the other side of the earth, it appears like a bright beacon in the sky; a night light for all of us. The moon looks the same night after night aside from rare celestial events because it’s in synchronous rotation, meaning we see the same side which is beautifully scarred with craters from asteroids. Although the moon is somewhat small in comparison to earth, it still holds a gravitational pull and has an influence over the ocean and earth body tides as well as the lengthening of the day.

    “Mistletoe rarely grows on oaks, but is sought with reverence and cut only on the sixth day of the moon.” -Pliny the Elder, Roman, 23 – 79 CE

The moon’s natural influence on people and animals since the dawn of life existing on earth goes without saying. The cultural influences of the moon on lifestyle, art, mythology and language are prevalent amongst most indigenous cultures of the world and all modern life today. The word moon is old English but stems from the proto-indo-European word “meh” which means “to measure“.  The Celts, or Celtic culture which some anthropologists speculate originated out of ancient Indo-European agricultural religion along with the dharmic frameworks, specifically used nights and the moon to measure their days verses the sun. That is, their days began with the night instead of the dawn. The Coligny Calendar, an ancient Celtic stone calendar, was based on both, the lunar and solar cycles and is incredibly accurate, arguably more so than the current Gregorian standard. Many stone circles built by neolithic and mesolithic people across Europe, many of whom passed their way of life onto their descendants are aligned to rare lunar events. For example, the Stenness standing stones in Orkney Scotland along with the Black Forest Stonehenge in Germany are aligned to a lunar event occurring every 18.6 years in which the moon appears in its most northernly possible position. In fact, locally the Stenness stones are often fittingly called the “Temple of the moon” and the Ring of Brodgar nearby is called the “Temple of the sun”. We know that overall it seems indigenous people like the Celts held the moon at least in equal regard to the sun.

Luck with you it will abound

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What you seek it will be found

In sky, in sea, or solid ground.”

-Author unknown

 

As far as actual celebrations regarding the moon, we know little of, but there are a few fragments of information that have survived. For one thing, many herbs were only picked during specific phases or days of the moon’s cycle. Certain days were lucky while others were unlucky to pick herbs or conduct business in general. This practice survived in Celtic lands at least until the 18th century. Overall, the most commonly celebrated days for conducting business are the new moon and full moon. Ancient people also understood the direction of the moon and sun were going clockwise. Therefore, when you did habitual tasks or rituals, you walked clockwise and to do otherwise was called “widdershins” and deemed unlucky. Many mythological stories were framed around the idea of a character walking widdershins and bringing bad luck on themselves or even death such as in the tale of Bóinn. The tale goes that when she walked widdershins around a sacred well, it rose up and carried her away creating the River Boyne, unfortunately bringing her demise as well. This practice, again, was carried through at least to the 18th century and arguably present day for some. The most recent practice that is still often carried out in Scotland is for a pregnant woman to walk around a church three times at sunrise before delivery for good luck. Many people still walk around a well three times and say a blessing before taking water from it. Many practices are so inconspicuous, you would hardly notice them. For example, in Cornwall it’s tradition to nod at the new moon and turn silver in your pocket for good luck. Scotland, has a similar practice when they turn their wedding ring for good luck and make a wish. Many of these practices and more were preserved in old books by folk historians that recorded local traditions such as in the Carmina Gadelica written between 1860 and 1909 by Alexander Carmichael.

In indigenous cultures and mythology across the world, the sun is often portrayed to represent a male figure while the moon is female. The moon is tied to feminine power and of rebirth because our menstruation cycles match the moon’s 29.5 day cycle with our own cycles typically lasting 28 to 30 days. There likely was a related belief that life springs out of darkness, the darkness of the earth or the womb so it also makes sense that darkness (along with the moon) in general would be given female personification. It’s well known that when women spend any amount of time together, their cycles start to match up and our most natural state is one of matching the moon as well and typically having a period sometime during the full moon. In many ancient cultures, but most certainly the Native Americans, women would often spend their menstruation week in one hut and likely saved the blood for ritual purposes. This blood, being red and understood as necessary for life would likely have been seen to embody the energy and gift of the goddess; of the moon. Historically, women were often separated from their families or husbands purposefully because they were thought to be unclean during this time so these traditions varied across the world from culture to culture. For some it may have been celebrated to some extent and for others, it was not. In Celtic culture, the closest and only real reference is in the Táin Bó Cúailnge, when the powerful great queen Méabh created three great channels with her “gush of blood”. Again, this hints to a belief that the blood held the power of life and of the moon. Today, many women couldn’t imagine honoring this time as it’s now mostly seen as an ailment which needs to be gotten over as quickly as possible. Without our moon cycle, life couldn’t exist and it might be a personal matter of reclaiming this importance within ourselves.

“Hail to thee, thou new moon,

Guiding jewel of gentleness!

I am bending to thee my knee,

I am offering thee my love.

Holy be each thing

Which she illuminates;

Kindly be each deed

Which she reveals.”

-“The New Moon” from the Carmina Gadelica

 

“The men of old would not kill a pig nor sheep nor goat nor axe-cow at the wane of the moon. The flesh of an animal is then without taste, without sap, without plumpness, without fat. Neither would they cut withes of hazel or willow for creels or baskets, nor would they cut tree of pine to make a boat, in the black wane of the moon. The sap of the wood goes down into the root, and the wood becomes brittle and crumbly, without plight, without good. The old people did all these things at the waxing or at the full of the moon. The men of old were observant of the facts of nature, as the young folk of today are not. The new moon was propitious for clipping hair, for cutting peats, for reaping corn, for shearing sheep, and for many things of that nature.” -Alexander Carmichael, 1860 – 1909 Carmina Gadelica

“Some authors assert that the Gallaicans are atheists whereas the Celtiberians and the neighboring peoples of the North dance and revel all night long by their homes, with their families, during the full moon, in order to honor an anonymous god.” -Strabo, Greek, 64 BCE – 24 CE

“While Attalus was encamped on the Macistus, an eclipse of the moon took place, which the Galli (Celts) took to be an unfavorable sign; and they were also wearied of moving about with their wives and children who followed in the carts. Accordingly, they refused to march on.” -Polybius, Greek, 205 – 125 BCE

 

Author: naturebasedlivinginfo

Desiree Marie is the creator and writer behind Nature Based Living. She's a mother of three, wife, teacher, writer, photographer and herbalist. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Education as well as multiple certifications in herbalism and dietetics. Website





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